Pertussis or whooping cough usually isn't serious for healthy school-aged children, but a new vaccination requirement for sixth- and ninth-graders may help others stay healthy.
Amy Armstrong, whose daughter, Larkin, served as inspiration for the all-inclusive Larkin's Place at the new Stephens Family YMCA, learned firsthand about the importance of vaccinations.
Armstrong said her daughter had her first pertussis shot on time, but what she called a "catastrophic" seizure disorder kept her from finishing the series of shots as an infant.
"She was somewhat protected, and we began medical treatments for her seizures, which left her immune system severely compromised," Armstrong said. Larkin's parents didn't leave the house with her, even to go to church or the grocery store, and it took years for her doctors to allow her to have a pertussis booster.
"I lived in fear that whopping cough would come our way because it would kill her," Armstrong said.
Armstrong said she, her kids and her husband are all fully vaccinated, and emphasized that those who don't vaccinate their kids affect everyone around them.
A new vaccination requirement aims to help stop the spread of the disease that's growing more common in Illinois and around the country.
The state of Illinois has a new requirement this school year that students in sixth and ninth grades provide proof that they've had a Tdap vaccination. The vaccine is a booster that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.
Those students need to show proof that they've gotten the vaccination, have an appointment to get one or "have an approved medical or religious exemption on file," according to a news release from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
A vaccine for pertussis is included in the first group of vaccines a baby receives at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months, said Brandon Meline, the director of maternal and child health at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
But in some people, immunity to pertussis wears off, which is why sixth- and ninth-graders are being required this school year to prove they've had a Tdap vaccine, which is a booster that adds a pertussis immunization to the typical tetanus booster.
"That's a population that, as we all know, spreads germs pretty readily," Meline said.
Pertussis is highly contagious and can have severe complications for infants and the elderly and those who are immune-compromised, and there has been an increase in cases in Illinois and other states, such as Washington where it's being called an epidemic, Meline said.
In July, Illinois health care providers reported about 1,200 cases of whooping cough. Last year, they reported 1,509 cases to the state's health department, according to a news release.
"Vaccination continues to be the single most effective strategy to reduce illness, and even death, caused by pertussis and other vaccine preventable diseases," the release stated.
For healthy adults and children, pertussis doesn't usually turn into a serious disease, Meline said. It comes with a persistent cough, though, that's highly contagious for as long as someone has it.
So if a student has an infant brother or sister, or gives it to the caretaker of an infant, Meline said, it could cause serious complications for the infant.
That could include the baby coughing so hard it vomits or faints, Meline said. Infants aren't fully protected until they've had what's called their "primary series" of vaccinations, which is at age 6 months at the very least, as long as they've been vaccinated on time.
Anyone who has a cough longer than two weeks should consult their doctor, as it's one symptom of pertussis.
Pertussis is treated with antibiotics, but the problem is, if someone has had symptoms for two weeks, it's difficult to identify everyone you've been in contact with, and "stopping the transmission of it becomes challenging," Meline said.
By making sure students in sixth and ninth grades have had the Tdap vaccination (and in coming years, that requirement will expand to include sixth- through 12th-graders), "it will decrease the number of vulnerable people out there," Meline said, as the idea of herd immunization means that if enough of the population is vaccinated, others are less likely to get the disease.
"It's really about stopping the transmission of the disease," Meline said.
Champaign schools spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart said the deadline for the new requirement is Oct. 15, and encourages parents to use two upcoming clinics at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to get their kids vaccinated.
School physical, Tdap clinics set
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is partnering with the Carle Family Medicine Residency Program to offer school physical and Tdap vaccination clinics Sept. 22 and Oct. 13.
The clinic, featuring free school physicals, is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the public heath district at 201 W. Kenyon Road, C.
Tdap vaccinations will be billed to Medicaid and Health Alliance insurance, so please bring your insurance card.
For the uninsured and underinsured, the vaccination will cost $16.79 per dose.
Other vaccinations will be available upon request, and parents are asked to bring their kids' immunization records.
School physicals and Tdap are required next school year for all students entering sixth and ninth grades
In upcoming years, students in sixth through 12th grades will be required to have the Tdap vaccination.